Author Archives: Raven Cypress Wood

The Meaning & Benefit of Offering Torma

100,000 torma offering to the enlightened protector Sipé Gyalmo. Photo credit: Unknown

The offering of torma is a common practice within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. The Tibetan term “torma” [gtor ma] literally means “something that is thrown, tossed, or strewn.” This refers to the action of many kinds of torma being tossed into the sky as an act of offering. However, not every torma is offered in this way. External torma can be offerings of the three white things: butter, milk, and salt-free cheese, and the three sweet things: honey, crystallized sugar, and dark sugar such molasses or maple syrup. External torma are also commonly made from roasted barley flour called tsampa which is mixed with sacred substances and shaped according to the particular kind of offering being made. In general, peaceful offering torma of this kind have a round base and wrathful torma have a triangular base. One of the many kinds of daily offering torma within the Yungdrung Bön tradition is the water torma which is one of the four daily offerings of generosity.

Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché was born into the human realm in the ancient land of Tazik. He only traveled into the country of Tibet one time. During this brief visit, his teachings to the Tibetan people were centered around compassion and the use of torma as offerings as a substitute for killing animals to use as offerings.

Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche and Geshe Tenzin Yeshe Rinpoche prepare to perform the daily water torma offering. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Every kind of torma offering has three parts: the preparation, the main practice and the conclusion. The specifics of these are according to the particular practice being performed and the kind of torma being offered. In general, When preparing the torma, the hands and utensils are washed and any container or plate used to present the torma must be clean and without any defect or damage. After being properly made and arranged, it must be ritually cleansed with incense and water. Having generated an intention of compassion and generosity, the torma is offered to a clean place. When possible, the torma are tossed onto roofs as being a place free of the defilement of having been walked upon and also being a higher place to offer to higher beings. For offering to lower beings, the torma are placed upon the ground in a clean place.

“Come here now and keep your protection vow! Accept these offerings of smoke and torma! Act as a companion to me! Expel the causes for harm and obstacles! Act to accomplish this entrusted activity!” 

— Extract from The Invocation of Chammo Lamlha, Goddess of Travel

Various peaceful and wrathful torma offerings. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

The recipients of the torma offerings are both the enlightened beings as well as the six kinds of beings within cyclic existence. The recipients can be classified in many ways. They can be classified into four categories known as “The Four Guests.” These are 1) the guests of reverence which are the enlightened beings, 2) the guests of exalted qualities which are the powerful, worldly protectors, 3) the guests who are among the eight classes of spirits and demons, and 4) the guests of compassion or charity. We offer to the enlightened beings to purify our sacred commitments with them, elicit their blessings and protection, and to develop our positive qualities of devotion and generosity. We offer to the worldly protectors in order to elicit their powerful and magical protection. We offer to the eight classes of spirits and demons in order to repay any karmic debts that we might owe to them so as to pacify any feelings of revenge or harm that they might harbor against us. And we offer to the guests of charity to alleviate their suffering and misery.

Torma offerings for the lu. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

“I offer this inexhaustible, decorated torma to the twenty-five classes of lu* who are surrounded by millions of friends and associates. Because we dig the earth, break the rocks, chop down trees, drain the ponds and streams, create contaminated smoke, and commit immoral acts near the homes and places of the lu; they faint, go mad, become angry, or grow weak.

Regardless of whatever violence, disagreements, or ill will have occurred in the past, because of offering this torma of nectar, may the diseases of the lu be pacified! May their hopes and wishes be fulfilled!”

— Extract from The Ritual of Regularly Giving Torma to the Lu

*Lu [Sanskrit: naga]

In general, the offering of torma increases wealth and resources. Secret torma is the offering of the body such as in the practice of chod. This conquers the view of the self as inherently existing. Ultimately secret torma is maintaining the view without self-grasping. This increases realization and is the greatest of all torma offerings.

Additionally, by offering torma we naturally practice six of the ten perfections.

  1. By giving food and water, we engage in the practice of perfecting generosity.
  2. By ensuring that everything is clean, we engage in the practice of perfecting discipline.
  3. By offering charity without greed or resentment, we engage in the practice of perfecting patience.
  4. By putting forth the effort to continually offer torma, we engage in the practice of perfecting joyful effort.
  5. By abiding in meditation, we engage in the practice of perfecting concentration.
  6. By understanding the emptiness of the giver, the recipient and what is given, we engage in the practice of perfecting wisdom.

The ritual specialist Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche offering a water torma to the lu. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

By offering torma we engage in the vow of individual liberation through our act of generosity and therefore eliminating the mind of harming other beings, and we engage in the bodhisattva vow through offering to the guests of charity. Additionally, our longevity, merit, good fortune and personal power increase. And we purify the causes to be reborn into the lower realms.

Yidam torma of the lama, yidam and khandro of the Mother Tantra. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

It is important to note the difference between “offering torma” and “yidam torma.” Although both are referred to as “torma” they serve very different purposes. A yidam torma is also prepared from tsampa mixed with sacred substances and has a specific form and attributes according to the associated meditational deity or yidam. However, the purpose of the yidam torma is to act as a sacred support for the presence of the deity during empowerments and meditation upon the yidam. This kind of torma is not offered. Once it has been consecrated, it is placed in the highest position upon the shrine and treated as the sacred abode of the deity.

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Anniversary of The Saint Gongdzö Ritro Chenpo Rinpoche

The Sage, Me’u Gongdzo Ritropa Rinpoche.

The 4th day of the 10th lunar month is the celebration of the founder of the A TRI dzogchen lineage, Me’u Gongdzö Ritro Chenpo Rinpoche. Born into the Me’u family in 1038, he is often referred to simply as “Dampa” meaning “The Sage” or “The Saint.” The A TRI teachings are one of the three primary lineages of the Great Perfection teachings within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. In addition to material he collected from other sources for the A TRI scripture, he also added his own gong ter, or mind treasure, to the collection.  He organized the practices of the A Tri into 80 meditation sessions. Later in the 13th century, other lamas condensed the practice into 30 sessions and then 15 sessions of practice as it is currently taught.

When Gongdzö Ritropa was very young, his parents arranged for him to be married. Later as a youth, he had some realization of impermanence and a yearning to leave worldly life grew inside of him. He asked his wife if they could separate so that he might practice the spiritual life but she refused. Feeling quite unhappy, he made a plan. He burned some brush and mixed the ash with poison and yogurt. He then rubbed this mixture onto his hands and arms. Soon thereafter, his skin reacted in such a way that it looked as though he had contracted leprosy. He went to his wife and family and showed them. He told them that he was afraid that he would spread the disease and he asked his wife if he had permission to leave. Alarmed, the wife and the rest of the family agreed. Once away, he rejoiced that he was now free to follow the spiritual path.

He received teachings from nine different teachers including the founder of Yungdrung Ling Monastery, Dru Yungdrung Lama. Deciding that he would be of greater benefit as a monk rather than a scholar, he requested ordination. At first, he was refused but upon the positive dream of the lama, he was given the vows of a monk. The lama advised him to live as a hermit and to be diligent in his meditation practice. Therefore, at the age of twenty-four, he became a monk and began a life of living as a reclusive yogi.

He exhibited many signs of accomplishment such as flying through the sky and leaving his hand and foot prints in stone. Although his primary focus was upon his meditation, he also wrote a number of texts. The A Tri lineage of dzogchen teachings was closely associated with the Dru family.  From the founder of Menri Monastery Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoche until HIs Holiness 4th Menri Trizin Kunzang Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the A TRI lineage was passed down through the abbots of Menri Monastery.  However, after Kunzang Gyaltsen Rinpoche the lineage split away from the line of Menri Abbots. Today, the teachings of A TRI dzogchen are taught and practiced throughout the world.

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Now is the Time

“Just like interested bees circle around lotuses that contain nectar, the faithful who have clear understanding circle around a genuine person who has good qualities.

Just like the nature of foul smells cannot remain near a sweet-smelling medicinal tree, conditions of harm and injury cannot remain near a person of good character.

Wise and excellent persons, now is the time to engage with virtue. If you do not plant in time, you will feel regret when the harvest is scarce.

If you practice according to the instructions now, then it will be impossible to have a disappointing result. Just like planting barley seeds, it is impossible for them to arise as any other grain.”

— Extracted verses from Good Sayings for the Stages of the Path written by His Holiness 8th Menri Trizin Sonam Yungdrung Rinpoche. He became leader of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition in 1575.

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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The Power of Aspiration

Yungdrung Bön nun circumambulates. Photo credit: Mary Ellen McCourt

“Never being separate from the divine places of refuge and having brought together the causes and conditions of faith and compassion, may I generate the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all migrating beings!

With the establishment of mindfulness as well as a vast and pure renunciation, and through the four kinds of miraculous abilities along the path of accumulation, and because of these roots of virtue which are in accord with the path of liberation, may my mind-stream become ripened!

Instantly having perceived the clearly manifest meaning of the essential nature which is non-dual clarity and emptiness, may I be free from the activities of this world and obtain the ground beyond only having a mere taste of experience!

Unwavering from the state of pure space and having accomplished benefit for others through the unsurpassed ten perfections, may I proceed along the path of meditation and fulfill the two accumulations!”

— Extract from The Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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The Fifth Way: In the Service of Virtue

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting Related to The Fifth Way

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Fifth Way is called The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners and specifies the proper conduct and commitments of a lay person taking vows. This Fifth Way is the first of the Nine Ways classified as ‘Ways of the Result’ or ‘Bön of the Fruit.’ In the Tibetan language, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’ or ‘one who draws near to virtue.’ When asked the meaning of these concepts, the enlightened all-knowing teacher, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwo answered,

“Virtuous means without negative actions. This is one who is committed to serve virtue through their body, speech and mind. Service means serving without holding contradictory views and properly remaining steadfast in service to virtue.”

In general, the lay practitioner commits to practicing the ten virtuous actions and renounces the ten non-virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.  Buddha Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renunciation as 1) not performing the actions, 2) not requesting or encouraging others to perform them and 3) not feeling pleased that others have performed the negative actions. Similarly, one commits to 1) acting according to the ten virtuous actions, 2) encouraging others to participate in these activities and 3) feeling joy that others have performed virtuous actions. This is the inner practice.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Body:

  1. Rather than killing, protecting the life of other beings.
  2. Rather than stealing, practicing generosity.
  3. Rather than engaging in sexual misconduct or causing others to break their vows, keeping one’s own vows and respecting the vows of others.

The Four Virtuous Actions of Speech:

  1. Rather than lying, speaking the truth.
  2. Rather than creating discord, speaking in a way that brings people together.
  3. Rather than using hurtful speech, speaking gently and kindly.
  4. Rather than gossiping or mindlessly talking, speaking in a useful way or reciting prayers.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Mind:

  1. Rather than coveting the possessions and accomplishments of others, being generous and open.
  2. Rather than wishing harm to others or feeling resentful, cultivating the desire to help others.
  3. Rather than holding wrong views, practicing the teachings of Yungdrung Bön and establishing a true and authentic view.

When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to construct the first Elegant Yungdrung Chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten which represents the stages of enlightenment

The practitioner must go before a pure lama who guides disciples and take the appropriate vows. According to a commentary written by the 23rd abbot of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Nyima Tenzin Rinpoché:

“As for the vows of a gen nyen: There are five kinds of lifetime vows.  To abandon killing, to abandon taking what is not given, to abandon impure, wrong kinds of sexual conduct, and to abandon false speech are four.  Abandoning one of the four kinds of food is the fifth.  Some people have taught abandoning alcohol as a branch vow.

This is the gen nyen of completely renouncing according to the five kinds of established laws.  Because of that, the gen nyen of pure behavior has renounced the basic kinds of impure activity.”

As for killing, one must abandon killing in anger especially another human being. One must abandon stealing, especially when it is driven by desire. One must avoid sexual contact that is damaging or abusive, one must avoid harmful speech especially if it creates a division within the spiritual community, and one must avoid lying especially about one’s spiritual experiences and attainments. As for the fifth which is a branch vow, one renounces either one of the four kinds of food. In this context, the four kinds of food are 1) meat, 2) garlic, 3) solid food after the mid-day meal, and 4) intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. Regarding drugs and alcohol, the deeper meaning is the renunciation of intoxication which is an obstacle to mindfulness and incites negative behavior.

According to Buddha Tönpa Shenrap in The Nine Ways of Bön,

“As for the lifelong inner rules, one must abandon killing due to the influence of anger, abandon taking what is not given due to the influence of desire or attachment, abandon acting secretly to get what one wants without consideration of cause and effect due to the influence of ignorance, abandon performing unclean work due to the influence of pride, and abandon rough and abusive speech, meaningless talk, and telling lies. One must apply one’s self to their opposites.”

The Buddha goes on to describe the outer practices.

“As for the five intermediate principles, one should perform pure water-cleansing rites, perform prostrations and circumambulations with devotion and aspiration, create and place tsa tsa, and offer torma. Presenting offerings is a branch of gathering the [two] accumulations.”

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Lunar Calendar: The Day to Practice Drenpa Namkha & Tséwang Rikdzin

Drenpa Namkha edited(As a meditational deity, Drenpa Namkha is most often depicted in a semi-wrathful form, blue in color and holding a yungdrung in his right hand.)

According to the lunar calendar of the Yungdrung Bön, the 10th day of each month is the day set aside for the practice of the three sages: Drenpa Namkha and his two twin sons, Tséwang Rikdzin and Pema Tongdrul.   On this day, it is appropriate to pay homage and make offerings to these lamas as well as to recite the mantras associated with their respective practices. During the month of November 2019, this day is November 6th.

“Now during this negative time, instances of virtue decrease and the opportunities for good fortune, prosperity and nutrition for the destitute diminishes.  You are surrounded by the wealth deities and their retinues.  I pray to the Great Lama and his two sons, to the subduer of demons Drenpa Namkha, bestow a treasury of riches and prosperity!

Look upon me with your unbiased compassion morning and night during the past, present and future.  Turn back both seen and unseen enemies! My present and future Refuge and Protector, bless me to accomplish my intentions!”

~From the Prayer of Fourteen Stanzas to Drenpa Namkha, translated by Raven Cypress Wood

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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To Act with Compassion

An older horse that has been protected and blessed through the Tshe Thar ritual in honor of HE Menri Ponlop Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown

Within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, there is a ritual for protecting the life of animals that are destined to be killed. This ritual is known as Tshe Thar, life release or freeing life. In Tibet, it is common to purchase live fish just after they have been caught and release them back into the lakes or to purchase yaks and allow them to live out the full length of their life span.

HH 34th Menri Trizin, Latri Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche, and Geshe Nyima Künchap Rinpoche performing the Tshe Thar ritual for a fish release. Photo credit: Angel R. Torres

An individual or group requests a lama to perform the tshe thar ritual either as a general practice of compassion, on a particular auspicious day, as a method to protect the longevity of a lama, or to prolong the life-span of an ill person, etc.

“Marvelous source of the teachings who holds the treasury of all exalted qualities, the lama has the control of discipline through many activities.

He is the unequaled lord of the teachings and the ornament of the crown of the head.”

— Extract from The Skillful Method of Saving the Life of Beings and Setting Them Free

The ritual begins with the usual preliminary practices of taking refuge in the places of wisdom and enlightenment, generating a fervent intent towards enlightenment for one’s self and others, admitting and purifying non-virtue that one has committed, and setting a boundary to prevent disturbances to the ritual. Then, the lama generates their body, speech and mind as the enlightened body, speech and mind of the wisdom deity and bestows blessings and empowerment upon the animals. To mark this and to indicate that the animals are forever protected, a sacred badge containing the mantric syllables of the wisdom deity is affixed to the animals. In conclusion, prayers of good fortune and aspiration are performed and the virtue of the activity is dedicated for the benefit of all sentient beings.

“Although it is difficult to produce the four kinds of thoughts of enlightenment,

compassion is easy if one’s self is used as an example.”

— Words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché from The Fifth Way: The Way of Those Who Follow Virtue

A yak in Dolpo, Nepal that has been protected and blessed through the Tshe Thar ritual. Photo credit: Geshe Tenzin Yangtön

“Through the blessings of saving the life of these beings and setting them free for the benefit of pacifying the obstacles of the sponsors, may obstacles be pacified!

May the lifespan be undiminished! May the lifespan not be lost! May the lifespan be long!  

You, animals whose lives have been saved, having attained a precious human body in the future, may you have the good fortune of practicing the Yungdrung Bön!

— Extract from The Skillful Method of Saving the Life of Beings and Setting Them Free

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Praise to the Unsurpassed Teacher!

The enlightened Lord Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche. Photo credit: Khedup Gyatso.

“EMAHO!

Even though he had gathered the two accumulations of merit and wisdom over three incalculable eons and had become omniscient and an unsurpassed teacher,

and although he had perfectly fulfilled renunciation and realization and had manifested as an enlightened being,

he mercifully perceived migrating beings and set the intention to be born as a son to King Mugyal Thökar in order to guide sentient beings.

I pay homage to the deed of accepting rebirth!”

— Excerpt from Praise of the Twelve Deeds of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

For more information about Buddha’s deed of being born, see the previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2013/09/19/buddha-tonpa-shenraps-1st-deed-birth/

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Rites of Wisdom and Protection

The enlightened protector Walchen Gekhö

On the Tibetan lunar calendar, the 23rd-29th of the 8th month is designated as the time for the intensive retreat and practice of the deity Gekhö at Menri Monastery. In 2019, these lunar dates coincide with October 21st-27th on the Western calendar.

The deity Gekhö is closely associated with Mt. Tisé (A.k.a Mt. Kailash) and the ancient land of Zhang Zhung. Among the 360 emanations of this deity is the protector associated with the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung, Zhang Zhung Meri. This enlightened deity has both a tantric and a dzogchen empowerment. He is the primary yidam of the Yangtön lineage of lamas which includes the current Menri Pönlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche.

The enlightened protector Zhang Zhung Meri

“Through the truth of pacification and through these forceful wrathful means, those who are untamed will be tamed. 

Just like adding firewood to a fire, through the afflictions themselves the afflictions are subdued and the demon of mistaken conceptuality is dispelled.”

—Extract from Practice of the Essence of the Fierce Champion Zhang Zhung Meri

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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